Carol Ann Thomlinson is perhaps the world leader in differentiated instruction.
Her most recent book on the subject, How to Differentiate Instruction in Academically Diverse Classrooms 3rd Edition (2017) starts out with an explanation of what differentiation is and isn’t and proceeds to provide educators with a myriad of examples and thought processes by which they might better meet the needs of the students in their class. Differentiation is scary stuff, the thought compels the teacher to consider how best to teach and support each student as an individual rather than teaching one lesson, designing one assignment or activity for all 10, 15, 20, 25, 30, 35…students in the classroom. Differentiation is not 35, 30, 25, 20 …entirely different lessons, assignments or activities.
Steven Covey, in his book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (1989) wrote, “The Golden Rule says to “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” While on the surface that could mean to do for them what you would like to have done for you, I think the more essential meaning is to understand them deeply as individuals, the way you would want to be understood, and then to treat them in terms of that understanding. As one successful parent said about raising children, “Treat them all the same by treating them differently.” It is this notion of treating each individual the same by treating them all differently that I’d suggest is the foundation of a truly inclusive education system and one that his helped by an excellent understanding of differentiation as outlined by Tomlinson.
The foundation of success is in knowing your students, knowing what makes them tick and tuning what we do, even fine-tuning the work to harmonize with and draw out the best in our students. Tomlinson, in chapter 9 uses the notion of a soundboard or equalizer to suggest that for some students we can slide up a bit here, draw back a bit there to get the perfect pitch, tune that draws out the best work. Don’t panic, the students and parents are partners in this work and Tomlinson provides excellent examples of strategies that can make it work in classes big and small, diverse or homogenous.
There are soundboard settings that can be one click and adjust a number of sliders, some can be pre-programmed and activated when the moment is right and in a differentiated classroom where the foundation has been set with students and teachers engaged in the conversation and routine development it’s clear that everyone can benefit from the collective attention to diversity in the room.
This makes sense or should make sense. We are not all the same, we share many characteristics but like snowflakes no two are exactly alike, even identical twins need variance. Seems like a perfect place to revisit Todd Rose’s work on the Myth of Average.
Treat them all the same, by treating them differently. It’s really an extension of the golden rule and the results help close the gap between the best version of each student and where they currently stand on their journey.